20Qs Pinched From Alastair Humphreys

Emily Woodhouse Comment and Opinion

Good evening! I hope you’re out enjoying the sunshine somewhere, not stuck in front of a screen. As ever for me on Friday night, I’m meant to be packing my camping bag for the weekend… So that means procrastination instead! I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a little while. I’ve got some big juicy posts coming to give you an update on what’s going on behind the scenes!

In the mean time, I saw Alastair Humphreys had posted his answers to the Proust Questionnaire. I do love a good Q&A and I thought you guys might be interested in my answers. There are 35 questions (!) so I thought I’d do 20 to start with and see what you think…

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

I have absolutely no idea. When I think about it abstractly, it has this sunny golden glow about it and I’m somewhere outside, smiling. If I knew what it looked like, I’d be running towards it!

They say that happiness is a journey not a destination (etc) and I can see what people mean by that. It’s so easy to chase after a goal that you forget to enjoy reaching it. When you get there, you find it’s not happiness that’s there, but something else. I’m trying to practice recognising the good bits of my journey.

2. What is your greatest fear?

Perhaps I’m a control freak. I don’t like being in situations that are out of my control. Specifically, being able to see myself heading towards an outcome, not liking it and being completely powerless to change the outcome.

I’m a bit scared of wasting my life or being stuck in a monotonous routine.

3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

I’m going to take this as meaning “dislike”. What trait do I dislike most about myself?

Errm, this is hard because if I see something I don’t like about myself, I actively work towards fixing it. Maybe we should be asking my friends… Except then that wouldn’t be myself. Let me get back to you.



I’ve been down to 20 and just come back up to finish this. For want of something better to say: I like to find out the truth. I like to know what’s right. People sometimes mistake this for wanting to be right. I don’t like that.

4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Easier (what does this say about me?!): I really don’t like unreliable/disloyal people. The ones who say to your face “Oh yeah that sounds like a great idea, I’d love to!” then never show up. That’s happened to me a lot before. It’s okay to genuinely not know, but if you’re saying “Yes” to try not to hurt/upset me, please don’t. I’d much rather you were honest and said you couldn’t come.

What really hurts is the friends who say “Yeah that’s kind of cool,” but don’t really ever commit. Then you find out that’s because they’re waiting to see if a better offer comes up for that evening. Ouch.

5. Which living person do you most admire?

Difficult. If you’ve read enough of my posts, you’ll have heard me moan that all of my favourite authors seem to be already dead. This is quite annoying when you’d like to write them a letter.

But, do you know what, at the moment I’d say David Attenborough. Why?

Flash back to a month before Blue Planet 2 came out. No one really cared much about plastic waste. It certainly didn’t make national news. No one was talking in earnest about disposable coffee cups or straws.

David Attenborough made a sequel to a very popular TV series. He knew everyone would watch it, because… well you just watch the sequel, don’t you. He used it to talk about an environmental issue that he cared about and he knew that whilst people were watching Blue Planet 2, they were listening.

A month after Blue Planet 2 comes out, the news is full of how bad plastic is for the planet. Supermarkets are promising to go “plastic-free”, huge chains are promising to double their recycling efforts, the UK is considering banning plastic straws and cotton buds.

Never mind Instagramming celebrities. That, friends, is what Influence really looks like.

6. What is your greatest extravagance?

Books. Obviously books. I really don’t buy much and I tend to use what I do buy until it no longer resembles its original function… Even then I’m likely to reuse it (like making a crampon bag out of a pair of jeans).

I’m living at home so all of my stuff really has to fit into one room. I’ve implemented a “no more stuff” rule: if it’s not transient, put it back on the shelf and leave the shop.

But for some reason books are immune from this rule. They are outside of it. Books aren’t just stuff anyway.

Have you heard of Umberto Eco’s library?

“The writer Umberto Eco… is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books.” – Taleb, The Black Swan

I am one of that small minority.

And, as I like to say, they are far better than wallpaper…

7. What is your current state of mind?

It varies. Right now I’d say I’m pretty relaxed, but I’m sure it’ll take me hours to get to sleep tonight. I’ve always got loads on my mind, problems to solve and questions to weigh up.

8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

“After Pope Gregory released his list of seven deadly sins in 590 AD, the seven virtues became identified as chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, patience, kindness, and humility. “

Probably patience. Maybe that’s because I’m young. But so many people tell me not to wait for the right moment (or until you’re older/retired) – live life now. That doesn’t sound very patient.

9. On what occasion do you lie?

When the truth is too complicated. I’m nowhere near as articulate in speech as with a pen. I find it hard to arrange my thoughts somewhere between my brain and my mouth. It’s a much longer, slower process to reach the end of my fingers.

They aren’t outrageous lies (except when it’s obvious and I’m trying to be funny) but still not true. I guess I’m just removing detail.

10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?

In light of the last question, we’re going to have to get really honest!

I was always really embarrassed at school about my thighs. We used to have to wear skirts (all girls school) and I couldn’t help but think I had really big legs compared to the people sitting on the floor next to me. Of course, that’s probably because I did more exercise, but it’s funny how hang-ups stay with you.

Also, I’m almost 25 – why do I still get spots? Teenage me: they were all lying.

11. Which living person do you most despise?

I don’t despise people. Seriously, if I feel negatively towards someone, I try to put myself into their shoes and understand why they’re like that – or what it is about me that makes me dislike it. I think it’s wrong or difficult to judge someone without having genuine interaction with them. Of course there are people I don’t get on with or dislike. But despise is strong.

12. What is the quality you most like in a man?

Humility, reliability and a little pinch of madness. I love it when someone entertains a crazy idea with me, even just for a little. That’s how the unbelievable starts to happen.

13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Ditto really.

14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

In speech, probably “epic, awesome, brilliant…” to the extent that don’t mean so much any more. Every now and again I get pulled down reusing a phrase – but it usually annoys me enough to actively get rid of it!

15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?


To name a person would be telling 😉

16. When and where were you happiest?

You know, I’m lucky to have had lots of happy moments. The one that springs to mind at the moment is when I’m socialising with the Team. It’s bizzare that I fit so well into this crazy group of people, who are so completely different. They say that you have to be weird to fit in. But the make me laugh so much and are supportive and caring with appropriate levels of cutting banter.

17. Which talent would you most like to have?

Aaargh! Only one? Can I say magic?

If I’m not allowed magic, can I say flight or telepathy?

If you’re being really boring then I’d like to be able to write left handed (or be a better sword fencer, or painter or pianist or…)

But really, this assumes that skills are a gift that you either have or don’t. I like to believe that you can become talented at something if you push at it.

18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

To be a more articulate speaker. I find it frustrating that I can’t express myself as well out loud as I can through paper. I don’t understand why.

19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Categorically no idea. Greatest makes me feel like there’s nothing better around the corner (which is wrong of course, it just means to date).


I guess what this tells me is that I don’t acknowledge my own achievements. Either I set my targets so high that achieving them becomes relief, or I compare what I’ve done to bigger/better/more important things.


20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?

A raven. They’re awesome. They live in the mountains and can fly upside down.


Wahoo I made it to 20! Now I’m going to have to pack my bag (awww…)

Thanks for reading, maybe you’d like to copy the questions onto your blog and answer them or pick a question to answer in the comments below.

Have a good weekend!